The announcement this week that Attorney General Eric Holder, barely two months into his job at the Department of Justice, was moving to drop all charges against former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, is another sign he is serious about cleaning up the mess that he inherited from the prior administration. Let’s hope he continues the house cleaning.
Stevens was indicted by the Bush Department of Justice on questionable charges of accepting favors from Alaska businessmen and failing to report them on his disclosure statements. He was convicted shortly before last fall’s election, which he then lost, due clearly at least in part to his legal troubles. Since the conviction, evidence has emerged that the federal prosecutors in the case, in their zeal to bag a sitting United States Senator, deliberately hid exculpatory evidence from the defense team, and engaged in other unseemly conduct, apparently including a romantic relationship between a federal agent and a government witness.
While some critics are blasting the current Justice Department for not doing enough to atone for these sins of its predecessor, the fact of the matter is, Mr. Holder has moved as quickly as possibly and has done as much as legally permissible to address the problem. He is asking the court to drop all charges against Stevens and has made clear he does not intend to pursue a retrial against the former Senator. Rather than criticize the new attorney general, Americans ought to strongly support the breath of fresh air this move — and others, such as releasing formerly classified memos detailing the tortured legal theories the Bush Administration used to justify unlawful actions against citizens — represents.